Getting an edge in a competitive space: the Awards for Statistical Excellence in the Pharmaceutical Industry

Written by Stephen Pyke on . Posted in Features

Stephen Pyke, the Royal Statistical Society's vice president for professional affairs, introduces the Statistical Excellence in the Pharmaceutical Industry, and why statisticians in this highly competitive industry can benefit from being recognised by this award.

As I would imagine anyone who’s been leading a group for more than five minutes will confirm, staff are our most important asset. No, wait ... let’s say that again, with meaning. OK, so perhaps it took me a little longer than it took you to get it, but I do see that my staff really are my most valuable asset (just try getting anything done without them).

Anyway, I’m sure we all work hard to attract and hire the smartest, most capable, most creative statisticians to join us. And in the market place, perhaps we all feel we stand out from the crowd. So ask yourself: what motivated you to join the company you now work for? Location? Salary? A significant promotion or job title? Perhaps all these. But I’d be surprised if you didn’t also consider the reputation of your putative employer, and more specifically, the group you would join.

In 2010, RSS and PSI (www.psiweb.org) jointly launched a new award that aimed to recognize statistical excellence in the pharmaceutical industry. The description of the award indicates: 'The award will be for the most influential example of the application of an existing statistical practice, or the implementation of an innovative statistical practice, in the pharmaceutical industry.'

At the time, I was leading a group responsible for statisticians supporting the Research and Early Clinical Development end of our business. Phil Woodward, who worked for me, was championing Bayes as a framework within which to design, conduct, analyze and interpret clinical trials. Phil was a passionate believer in the power of Bayesian thinking and, to cut a long story short, led the charge in shifting our area of the business towards embracing those principles. I nominated Phil for the inaugural RSS/PSI prize and he won.

Now I can’t show you data to prove this made a difference to our ability to hire the smartest in our industry (in fact those of rather crueller disposition, and who know what happened subsequently at the company Phil and I worked for, may infer a counter-productive effect). But I can tell you that, qualitatively, it helped cement a set of internal changes which have persisted. It also served to underscore for me the potential reputational value to the winner and, through a kind of halo effect, the group they work within.

Today I work for another company in the same sector and am equally keen to dislodge and replace the perceived industry leaders. Were one of the statisticians in my group to win this award next year, or in any future year, it would not change our direction: but in a world where we’re seeking to differentiate ourselves in a crowded market place, it would certainly be a fillip. You can be sure, I’ll be encouraging nominations.

For those who relish the competition, details can be found at the following link.

(Pictured: Bjorn Bornkamp receiving the 2013 Award for Statistical Excellence in the Pharmaceutical Industry.)

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